Compensatory Rest Break Of 20 Minutes Can Be Interrupted

In the case of Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford, the Court of Appeal (“CA”) has held that a worker’s right to a compensatory rest break under the Working Time Regulations 1998 need not be an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes where workers fall within a number of “special cases”.

Under regulation 12(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998, a worker is entitled to a rest break of a continuous period of 20 minutes if their daily working time exceeds six hours. However, if a worker falls within a number of “special cases” under regulation 21 then they are entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest. In exceptional circumstances where this is not possible then an employer needs to ensure that the worker is granted a period of rest which affords the worker such protection as may be appropriate to safeguard the worker’s health and safety. Workers that fall within this “special cases” category include those working in rail transport whose “activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic”.  

In the case of National Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford, the courts had to consider whether a worker who did not have an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes, but instead had a number of shorter breaks had been given adequate compensatory rest.

The Claimant was a railway signalman for the Respondent, Network Rail. He provided relief cover at a number of single-manned signal boxes and worked eight-hour shifts. The Claimant had to continuously monitor his post and was not allowed a continuous 20 minute rest break as he remained “on call” at all times. However, the Claimant was able to take a number of shorter breaks which amounted to substantially more than 20 minutes.

The Claimant brought a claim before the Employment Tribunal (“ET”) alleging that the Respondent was in breach of the Working Time Regulations as he had not been afforded adequate rest breaks. He claimed that he was either entitled to an uninterrupted 20 minute rest break or an equivalent compensatory rest break.

The ET held that the Claimant was not entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted rest break because he was a special case worker under regulation 21 and had instead received compensatory rest breaks.

The Claimant appealed successfully to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”). The EAT held that in order for a special case worker to receive equivalent compensatory rest to that provided under regulation 12, then the rest break should amount to an uninterrupted break from work that lasts for at least 20 minutes. The EAT stated that taking a number of shorter breaks did not amount to equivalent compensatory rest.

The Respondent appealed to the CA and the appeal was upheld. The CA held that special case workers who are excluded from regulation 12 should receive compensatory rest, but stated that compensatory rest as an “equivalent” is not rest which is identical to the uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes. Instead, the rest given to a special case worker should have the same value in terms of contributing to the workers well-being. The CA stated that there is no reason why, two 15 minute breaks for example could not be as beneficial as one 20 minute rest break.

This case provides some clarity as to the meaning of an “equivalent period of compensatory rest” under regulation 24 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 for those workers who fall within the “special cases” listed. The rest break need only be equivalent to an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes, but not identical.

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